The City of Oskaloosa received inquiries regarding its rental housing inspection program, prompted by a recent court decision in Orange City, Iowa. In September 2023, Orange City's rental housing inspection ordinance faced constitutional challenges and was deemed unconstitutional by an Iowa District 3 Court due to the following:
- The ordinance did not require the city to show probable cause before obtaining a search warrant for a home inspection.
- It lacked restrictions on inspections, preventing tenants and landlords from challenging the city's application for an administrative search warrant.
- Administrative warrants were issued without notice to occupants, leaving them unaware of the inspection's scope until after completion.
- The ordinance did not prevent unrestricted searches of private spaces, involving police, or reporting criminal evidence to the city attorney. The court recommended amendments, allowing renters to object before a judge when the city applies for a search warrant, and restricting inspections to specific concerns rather than a general search.
Oskaloosa’s Program is sound as it has a clear purpose, specific scope, and an established due process. The program aims to safeguard renters by ensuring adherence to minimum building standards for health and safety. The inspection covers exterior conditions, structural soundness, plumbing, ventilation, electrical/mechanical services, and fire safety measures. Before enacting the rental inspection program, the city heard concerns about unsafe dwellings. Since its inception in 2017, the program has significantly improved living conditions, with a 91% pass rate on first inspections in 2023, reflecting the city's commitment to enhancing living standards in approximately 800 registered rental properties comprising around 1700 dwelling units.
Oskaloosa's rental housing inspection differs from Orange City's in several key aspects:
Property owners, upon registering with the city, consent to inspections in line with city policy.
Landlords receive a detailed inspection checklist in advance, available publicly on the city's website.
Landlords receive notice of inspections and schedule them directly with the city's inspection contractor, notifying tenants at least 24 hours in advance.
Inspection activities are limited to items outlined in Oskaloosa Municipal Code titles related to health and safety, buildings and construction, and zoning.
No search warrants are obtained for rental inspections. Non-compliance leads to municipal infraction citations, allowing landlords or tenants to object before a judge.
Property owners can appeal violations or code interpretations to the Oskaloosa Building Code Board of Appeals and, if unsatisfied, request a public hearing with the City Council.
Tenants can file complaints about rental property violations, prompting inspections within 10 days.
Iowa law does not allow owner-occupied homes or homes sold on contract to be registered or inspected by the city except where a building or trade permit is required for structural work.
Questions regarding Oskaloosa’s rental housing inspection program may be directed to Shawn Christ, Development Services Director, at 641-676-5029 or firstname.lastname@example.org.